Scouting first-round playoff games in Lake County
By Joe Aguilar and Bill McLean
No. 29 Plainfield East (5-4) at No. 4 Warren (9-0)When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Playoff history: Plainfield East, which started playing varsity football in 2009, is making its third playoff appearance and first in five years. The Wildcats are 0-2, losing to Lincoln-Way East in 2013 and St. Rita in 2014; Warren is making its third playoff appearance in a row, 18th in 21 years and 28th overall (17-27 record). The Blue Devils advanced to the Class 8A quarterfinals last year, losing to Brother Rice, 20-0.
Winner plays: No. 13 Fremd (7-2)/No. 20 Plainfield North (6-3) winner
Outlook: Plainfield East earned a share of first place in the Southwest Prairie Conference (East Division) with Joliet West and Plainfield South. The Wildcats average 25.9 points per game and allow 23.4 per game. Neither of the five teams they beat finished with a winning record. Last year, the Wildcats went just 3-6. "Plainfield East is a VERY dangerous 5-4 team with a lot of athletes," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "They have a new head coach (Brad Kunz) and his kids seem to really rally around their new leader. They are big and fast on offense with big-play capabilities. On defense they are skilled and have excellent players at all three levels of their defense." Warren capped just the second undefeated regular season in its history by beating Mundelein 42-0 for its fifth shutout. The Blue Devils have allowed 21 points all season and not more than 6 points in any game. The Blue Devils are led defensively by Iowa State-bound DT Willis Singleton, DE Seamus Mellican, LB Juan De La Cruz, LB Malachi McNeal, LB Donville James, DL Tommy Matheson, DB Jaden Gregerson and S Josh Turner. Offensively, Indiana State-bound Derrick McLaughlin (1,143 rushing yards) and WR/RB/QB Christian Phillips (25 receptions, 361 rushing yards) each had scored 16 TDs. Trinate Jacobs (447 passing yards, 8 TDs, 1 interception) has shared snaps at quarterback all season with Phil Hird (250 passing yards, 4 TDs, 0 interceptions) but has started the Blue Devils' last two games.
-- Joe Aguilar
No. 20 Lake Zurich (6-3) at No. 13 Andrew (7-2)When: 5 p.m., Saturday
Playoff history: Lake Zurich is making its fourth playoff appearance in row, 17th in 18 years and 22nd overall (36-20 record, 2007 Class 7A state champions); Andrew is making its third playoff appearance in a row, 12th in 18th years and 20th overall (11-19 record).
Winner plays: No. 4 Hersey (8-1)/No. 29 Rockford Auburn (5-4) winner
Outlook: Andrew has gone to the playoffs each of the last two years under coach Adam Lewandowski, losing to eventual Class 7A state champ Nazareth, 42-11, last year, and to Plainfield North, 41-6 two years ago. The Thunderbolts went 1-8 in Lewandowski's first season in 2016, before going 6-4 in each of the following two seasons. Andrew has not won a playoff game since 2011. The Thunderbolts won the Southwest Suburban Conference Red Division with a 4-1 record this season. They average 25.7 points per game and allow 13.8 per game. "Andrew, as a team, is very fundamentally sound and well-coached," Lake Zurich first-year coach Ron Planz said. "Coach Lewandowski has done an awesome job building a program and creating a winning culture. Defensively, they are multiple in their fronts and coverages. They have an aggressive LB core and a very good secondary. They fly around and make plays. Offensively, double-wing option team. QB is very fast and the fullback is tough and physical. They are very good at executing their offensive with fast wingbacks and a good offensive line." Lake Zurich finished second in the North Suburban Conference at 6-1, losing only to undefeated Warren. QB Jack Moses, who last weekend announced on Twitter that he has accepted Northwestern's offer to be a preferred walk-on, has rushed for 778 yards and 10 TDs and has thrown for 1,093 yards (54-percent completion rate) and 11 TDs (4 interceptions). WR James Piggott has 30 receptions (16.2 yards per catch). RB Jack Dwyer (646 rushing yards, 8 TDs) has missed the Bears' last two games with a lower-leg injury. Planz said Dwyer is still day to day. In Dwyer's place, RB Tommy Vages rushed for 157 yards against Mundelein and 147 against Waukegan. "He has been playing lights out," Planz said of Vages. Defensively, Lake Zurich is led by LB Bryan Sanborn (82 tackles, 60 solos, 4 sacks). Three-year varsity starter Anthony Mango (Iowa baseball commit) has 4 interceptions.
-- Joe Aguilar
No. 31 Libertyville (5-4) at No. 2 Nazareth Academy (9-0)When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Playoff history: Libertyville returns to the postseason after going 2-7 last year. The Wildcats are making their 15th playoff appearance this century and 25th overall (31-23 record). They won the Class 7A state championship in 2004 and have runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2015, both in Class 7A as well. Nazareth is the defending state champion in Class 7A and won back-to-back state titles in 2014 (Class 6A) and 2015 (Class 5A). The Roadrunners finished second in Class 6A in 2017. This is their 19th playoff appearance (27-15 record).
Winner plays: No. 15 Thornton (7-2)/No. 18 Pekin (6-3) winner
Outlook: Libertyville's reward for winning its last three games to earn an at-large playoff berth is a trip to LaGrange Park to face the defending Class 7A state champs, who are undefeated in their encore campaign. The Roadrunners boast junior QB J.J. McCarthy (6-2, 185), a Michigan commit who is regarded as one of the top prospects at his position in the country. He directs an offense that averages 35.9 points per game and also features senior RB Alex Carrillo (5-9, 165) and sophomore WR Tyler Morris (5-11, 175). McCarthy was named the CCL/ESCC Orange Division's Gordie Gillespie most valuable player. Nazareth's Tim Racki was named the Dave Mattio coach of the year. The Roadrunners lost their season opener to St. Louis Cardinal Ritter College Prep, 32-21, but the outcome was reversed later in the season when Cardinal Ritter had to forfeit the game. In its 8 games against Illinois opponents, Nazareth has allowed only 85 points. "Very skilled on offense and physical on defense," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said of the Roadrunners. "We must try to keep the ball away from them as much as possible. They have the best set of QB and receivers we have seen all year, so it will be a challenge. Offensively, we must take what they give us and not get behind the chains." QB Blake Ellingson (1,618 passing yards, 13 TDs, 529 rushing yards, 6 TDs) leads a Libertyville offense averaging 24.4 points per game. RB Shaun Luce (452 rushing yards, 9 TDs) complements Ellingson. The Wildcats allow 21.7 points per game. DB Will Murphy has 3 interceptions. Libertyville's only victory against an opponent with a winning record came in Week 8 against Lake Forest.
-- Joe Aguilar
No. 23 Grant (6-3) at No. 10 Rockton Hononegah (7-2)When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Playoff history: Grant is making its first playoff appearance since 2012 and 13th overall (6-13 record). Rockton Hononegah is making its 13th playoff appearance in a row, 16th this century and 31st overall (20-30 record). The Indians' best finish was in 1985, when they finished second in Class 4A.
Winner plays: No. 7 Batavia (7-2)/No. 26 Thornwood (5-4) winner
Outlook: Rockton Hononegah has won 10 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons under fifth-year coach Brian Zimmerman. The Indians went 7-2 in the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC-10), losing to undefeated conference-champ Boylan Catholic, 55-21, and 7-2 Belvidere North, 28-14, in weeks 5 and 6, respectively. QB Payton Mather directs an Indians offense that averages 36.7 points per game. "Their film shows they have a good QB who knows how to hit his receivers, so we have to make our proper adjustments in pass coverage to make things difficult," Grant coach Chris Robinson said. Hononegah allows 26.1 points per game. Under third-year coach and Grant alumnus Robinson, the Bulldogs changed their offense to a triple-option attack and averaged 24.3 points per game, but they scored only 36 points in their last three games. "Offensively, we have to focus on establishing the run game but keeping Hononegah's defense honest with the pass," Robinson said. Bulldogs QB Tyler Elfering was injured in a Week-8 loss to Grayslake North and did not play against Wauconda. Robinson said Elfering will be a game-time decision Saturday. Grant ended the season with back-to-back losses after clinching its first playoff berth in seven years in Week 7.
-- Joe Aguilar
No. 9 Lakes (6-3) at No. 8 Simeon (6-1)When: noon, Friday at Gately Stadium, Chicago
Playoff history: Lakes is making its 11th playoff appearance in a row and 12th in 15 years as a program (7-11 record); Simeon is making its 19th playoff appearance in a row and 36th overall (18-35 record).
Winner plays: No. 1 Prairie Ridge (8-1)/No. 16 Grayslake North (5-4) winner
Outlook: As the Chicago Teachers Union strike dragged on during the first part of the week, it was business as usual for Lakes. Coach Jordan Eder said his Eagles prepared for their first-round playoff opponent as they would for any opponent. "We are not in favor of a forfeit and want to play the game," Eder said a day before an agreement was reached to end the CTU strike, meaning "game on." What the Eagles see from Simeon on Saturday will be interesting considering the Wolverines haven't played since Week 7, when they beat Taft, 26-14. Simeon has won six games in a row since losing its season opener, 55-0, to Baltimore St. Frances Academy. The Wolverines have scored 40 or more points four times. Lakes clinched its playoff berth by beating Round Lake, 38-14, in Week 9. The Eagles average 25 points per game and are led by QB Chris Selig (844 passing yards, 7 TDs), RB Mark Hunter (645 rushing yards, 4 TDs), RB David Garcia (441 rushing yards, 1 TD), WR Branden Nava (34 receptions, 4 TDs) and WR Jack Lochner (26 receptions, 2 TDs). Defensively for Lakes, Brandon Burdette and Leighsean Triplett each has 5 interceptions, while James Klemm has two. Lakes allows an average of only 13.7 points per game.
-- Joe Aguilar
No. 16 Grayslake North (5-4) at No. 1 Prairie Ridge (8-1)When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Playoff history: Grayslake North is making its seventh playoff appearance (3-6 record) and is back in the postseason after missing last season for the first time since 2011; Prairie Ridge is making its seventh straight postseason appearance under coach Chris Schremp. The Wolves (32-14 playoff record) won Class 6A state championships in 2011, 2016 and 2017.
Winner plays: No. 8 Simeon (6-1)/No. 9 Lakes (6-3) winner
Outlook: Grayslake North coach and Fox River Grove resident Sam Baker lives much closer to Prairie Ridge than he does to his workplace. "About a 15-minute drive, from my home to that part of Crystal Lake," said Baker, the Knights' third-year helmsman. Part of his team's game plan is to sustain drives on offense, since the three-time state champion Wolves averaged a whopping 51 points per game in the regular season. "Pretty good team," Baker said of the Fox Valley Conference power. "There's your understatement. It's a team loaded across the board. We saw its players in 7-on-7s [in the summer]. Prairie Ridge's option offense -- a big-play option team -- throws a little more than most option offenses do. We're going to have to be ready for their disciplined players." Senior QB Connor Lydon (715 yards passing, 12 TDs, 2 INT) steers PR's option attack, and RB Carter Evans has rushed for 795 yards (8.1 yards per carry) and 12 TDs. North had to prepare for its second playoff appearance in three years without its top running back, junior C.J. Johnson, who suffered a torn meniscus in GN's 28-24 defeat of Grayslake Central last Friday. The Tarik Cohen-esque back, impressively and courageously, scored a TD on one good leg against the Rams; his fill-in, starting junior LB Myles Sims, rushed 7 times for 21 yards, including 1- and 4-yard TD bursts. The second tally clinched a fifth win -- and a playoff berth. "Traditional power back," Baker said of the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Sims. "Nice kid, good kid." GN junior QB Nick Fish completed 18 of 21 passes for 188 yards in Week 9. He also rushed for a 2-yard TD. GN finished 5-4 in the regular season after a 1-4 start, a year after ending a 5-4 season on a 5-game winning streak. "We've talked about upsets, about what a team like Kansas State did to take down [then-No. 5] Oklahoma," said Baker, who noted his squad, in addition to Johnson, will battle in Crystal Lake without several other injured starters and reserves. "We've asked our players to do their jobs, to focus on us, to respect our opponent. They're fired up."
-- Bill McLean
No. 12 Mather (6-2) at No. 5 Antioch (7-2)When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Playoff history: Mather is making its third playoff appearance in 11 years and is 4-16 overall in postseason play; Antioch is making its fourth straight appearance in the playoffs and is 13-19 overall in postseason play. The Sequoits, a 6A state quarterfinalist last fall, fell short of a playoff berth only 3 times in the last 12 years.
Winner plays: No. 4 Cary-Grove (7-2)/No. 13 St. Ignatius (5-4) winner
Outlook: Antioch's 13-9 loss to North Chicago in Week 9 meant its regular season was bookended by 2 setbacks (Lake Forest's Scouts edged the Sequoits 10-7 in Week 1). Coach Brian Glashagel and his boys get to start a new chapter this weekend. "All playoff teams that lost in Week 9 want to get that bad taste out of their mouths in the first round of the playoffs," said Glashagel, whose program's remarkable winning streak in Northern Lake County Conference play ended at 27 games Oct. 25. "The energy level is up in practice; the kids are excited for playoff football." And thrilled for the likely return of senior CB/WR Tre Watson, who hasn't played since Week 3 because of a damaged MCL. "It's healed," Glashagel said of the ligament belonging to a recruit with double-digit Division I offers. "He's been rehabbing and joining us for 45 minutes of practice this week. He's running routes, catching balls, doing some other drills. His range of motion is back." The Watson news lessens some of the lingering sting of losing junior QB and Minnesota commit Athan Kaliakmanis to a season-ending collarbone injury in Week 6. Talk of a possible Antioch forfeit victory over Mather -- because of the ongoing teachers strike in Chicago -- hovered from the time playoff pairings were announced Oct. 26 until Thursday morning. But that ceased when the strike ended Thursday afternoon. "One thing you notice when you watch film of Mather is how organized that team is," Glashagel said. "Their running scheme -- you watch it, and you say, 'Oh, OK, I can see why that's a playoff team.' " Glashagel, on the loss to North Chicago last weekend: "We were prime for the picking because we're pretty banged up. But we had chances." Two promising ones, in fact. Antioch drove to inside NC's 5-yard line on two possessions but fumbled once and settled for a field goal at the end of the other trip. "People have to realize that North Chicago has one [Vondarious Gordon] of the best running backs in Lake County. And that's a team that lost three games by one point this year." Antioch's postseason record under Glashagel is 6-8. A win Saturday wouldn't just inch the coach's playoff mark closer to .500; he would earn the distinction of having guided the Sequoits to half of their 14 playoff wins in program history.
-- Bill McLean